A Simple Meditation For Cultivating Gratitude For Our Veterans, From A Military Wife
Taking a deep breath in through the nose and slowly exhaling through the mouth, I am still.
I wonder what you envision when you hear the word veteran. Do you see images of courageous men storming the beaches of Normandy? Do you see flags dressing white tombstones at Arlington? Maybe you envision a black-and-white photo of your great-grandfather in his youth.
At first thought, when I think of Veterans Day, I picture groups of elderly men in navy blue baseball caps adorned with patches and pins that serve as reminders of a past life. I think of men who carry stories like canes, telling romantic tales about foreign lands and glorious battles.
Most of the men I think about served in conflicts that my parents' generation barely remembers. World War II ended in 1945, the Korean War in 1953, and Vietnam in 1973. These dates feel especially distant when juxtaposed with modern-day conflicts. After all, there was no iPhone XR to capture the ungodly moments our great-grandparents faced in war. For most people and even for me, most casual conversations with veterans have me traveling to perilous sand-scaped villages where my First World problems like cane sugar versus coconut sugar seem selfish and inane.
When I think of a veteran, I think of the elderly, and for that I am part of the problem.
The generation of veterans we often fail to see includes the people all around us, at the workplace, on the street, in the market. I am talking about our peers—those who have served in the overseas conflicts of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. These veterans are no different from those of the past: Both groups sacrificed so that you and I remain free to enjoy our inalienable rights. However, the veterans of today are less conspicuous.
I wonder, am I consciously practicing gratitude for those who defend my freedom? Am I starting each day thankful that I am safe and free? Am I cultivating a life of awareness and appreciation for all of my blessings, many of which I owe to vets?
A great divide of understanding exists between veterans and the average American. Perhaps a daily dose of mindfulness and a pinch of unconditional gratitude is the best prescription to fuse the rift.
I am married to a veteran and have been for seven years, and for those who speak military, that is equal to six moves and two deployments. And out of those seven years, I spent about five coasting through my days, fully distracted and unconsciously numb to the extreme sacrifice my husband and his compatriots were making.
Even as a military spouse, I was guilty of mindlessness. If I could walk around every day not noticing the people who served, who like the veterans of the past wear their own flair—a Ranger tab tattoo on his shoulder, a KIA bracelet for his friend around his wrist, dog tags clicking around his neck—there must be others like me out there who were too caught up to pause for a moment and reflect on what these symbols represent. Like many people, I've made the mistake of forgetting one simple truth: that the privileges I am blessed with in America do not come without a price tag. Someone, somewhere, is making grave sacrifices so that I can live my life as I will. Talk about a shock wave of gratitude like a punch in the gut.
When we met in 2008, Bryan caught my eye because he could speak to things my international relations degree never taught me. He painted pictures with his words of the scenery in the mountains in Afghanistan and the sounds on the streets of Baghdad. He told me about parachuting out of airplanes and sitting with tribal leaders. Back then, I knew Bryan was employed by the Army and wore a green beret, but what I didn't know was why anyone would willingly sign up to do his job. Why would someone choose to travel to distant places, away from their family, friends, and sometimes careers, for months or years at a time? Yet, as our relationship grew, so, too, did my understanding of the depth of his character. This man wasn't running away from anything but was running toward his purpose. He was living his life in service to others.
"De oppresso liber," he would say, "to liberate the oppressed."
Imagine your own life for a moment. Who do you serve? Are there ways you can serve others just as a veteran has served you? How can you live your life with impact?
Lately, I've been thinking about whether I could ever walk a mile in his combat boots. Could I ever shift my consciousness and commit my life to a greater good, through selfless service? Could I give up my routines, my sense of security, my everyday comforts? Could I hug my family goodbye, knowing that hug might be our last? The veterans of today, like the man in my home, saw things I will never see, heard sounds I will never hear, trained for operations known and unknown, went to lands I will never touch, used their body, mind, and spirit to defend our shores, to keep us safe and free. Could I walk a mile in those shoes? What might it be like to view life through a veteran's lens, living by the credo "If not me, then who?" To immerse myself in an overseas deployment, for up to 13 months, risking injury, being without my children, my husband, my parents, my friends, while facing peril head-on. How does one even mentally prepare for something that major? My answer: I do not know. But I do know this: I am forever grateful, and I am eternally indebted to the people who stood up and said, "Send me."
It is true that a great divide of understanding exists between veterans and the average American. Perhaps a daily dose of mindfulness and a pinch of unconditional gratitude is the best prescription to fuse the rift.
So spend today thanking a veteran, or better yet, get to know a veteran. Like me, I think you will find yourself basking in awe for those who live life in service to others and filled with waves of gratitude for sacrifices made. To veterans, of all ages, genders, and creeds, thank you for your service to me, to my family, and to our country. Thank you for your sacrifice of quality time at night with your spouse, of holidays, births, and deaths. Today, as I think of and laud our military veterans both young and old, I inhale the peace and safety all around me and exhale gratitude.
Inhale peace. Exhale gratitude.
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